The Asphodel Plain; Act of Faith; Hospice

The Asphodel Plain
The poet she loved complained:
there are no asphodels or violets
exiled as he was in Transvaal,
so how could he talk to the dead
since the dead know only the language
of flowers, the flowers of Odysseus
and the asphodel plain of his longing
to return to his native land?
Her native land was Alexandria
and her exile out of Egypt
brought her back to the mainland
and the cobblestoned paths of Pelion
those her fathers climbed
in search of asphodel and violets
to bring home with the milk
their goats brought back themselves
along with whatever language
they’d devoured that day
in crossing the fields of their dead.
I bring flowers to her grave
in yet another country
but though the home of my longing
the flowers are not the right ones
for the things I want to say
the things I want her to know.


Act of Faith
I didn’t say anything
to distract her the first time
or the second or the fiftieth
anything that might raise
a question about the difference
between an act of faith
and mere superstition.
It was clear from the start
that she would cross herself
at the beginning of any trip
you could call a trip
or any seaward voyage
for more than a day
cross herself discreetly
though when done
glance at me quickly
as though to say
believe in it or not
it’s for you as well.
And I would smile to thank her
as I might for the offer
of an almond
or a blossom she’d plucked.
What was there to lose
if nothing clear to gain
by smiling silently?
Except the last time
when she looked up at me
from her sunken pillow,
face drawn and gray,
to cross herself with effort
then touch my hand
until I lifted it
to cross myself as well.


The girl had come from Haiti,
no more than eighteen,
so new to hospice service
she hadn’t yet dealt
with a dying patient,
it scared her half to death
she said, straining to say it,
then shy, embarrassed,
she turned toward the living room.
My wife, awake now,
asked how she was,
if she needed anything,
this girl who barely spoke,
I should try to help her
if she needed anything,
she said, her voice soft,
barely still hers.
I touched her cold hand,
said the girl was fine,
as she seemed to be
back now in the bedroom
with an iPad on her lap
until an hour later
when she came out to find me
gazing through the blinds
at a white-tailed doe and buck
vaulting across the lawn
in full command of their stride,
and the girl stood beside me,
face straining to be normal,
and said there was a problem,
Mary had stopped breathing,
and she didn’t know what to do.
I took her hand and led her
to the living room couch,
told her to rest with her iPad,
there was nothing more to do,
then went in to my Mary
to do what had to be done
after kneeling to say goodbye.